Background: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of maternal injury-related mortality during pregnancy in the United States, yet pregnant women remain an understudied population in motor vehicle safety research.
Methods: We estimated the risk of being a pregnant driver in a crash among 878,546 pregnant women, 16-46 years, who reached the 20th week of pregnancy in North Carolina (NC) from 2001 to 2008. We also examined the circumstances surrounding the crash events. Pregnant drivers in crashes were identified by probabilistic linkage of live birth and fetal death records and state motor vehicle crash reports.
Results: During the 8-year study period, the estimated risk of being a driver in a crash was 12.6 per 1000 pregnant women. Pregnant women at highest risk of being drivers in serious crashes were 18-24 years old (4.5 per 1000; 95% confidence interval, CI,4.3, 4.7), non-Hispanic black (4.8 per 1000; 95% CI=4.5, 5.1), had high school diplomas only (4.5 per 1000; 95% CI=4.2, 4.7) or some college (4.1 per 1000; 95% CI=3.9, 4.4), were unmarried (4.7 per 1000; 95% CI=4.4, 4.9), or tobacco users (4.5 per 1000; 95% CI=4.1, 5.0). A high proportion of crashes occurred between 20 and 27 weeks of pregnancy (45%) and a lower proportion of crashes involved unbelted pregnant drivers (1%) or airbag deployment (10%). Forty percent of crashes resulted in driver injuries.
Conclusions: NC has a relatively high pregnant driver crash risk among the four U.S. states that have linked vital records and crash reports to examine pregnancy-associated crashes. Crash risks were especially elevated among pregnant women who were young, non-Hispanic black, unmarried, or used tobacco. Additional research is needed to quantify pregnant women's driving frequency and patterns.
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